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January 1st, 2009

Happy New Year!

It's being quite a holiday season, what with houseguests and performances and last-minute deadlines. Not to mention the pair of us being down with matching colds that just won't go away. Ellen took the last couple of days off from performances to give her understudy a chance to do the role, plus get some writing handed in, plus get rid of the cold--she's going back on-stage today and this weekend for the last 5 performances.

And I? I've been alternating between reading stories for Interfictions and a Pamela Dean festival. I've read Tam Lin, The Secret Country trilogy, and am well into The Dubious Hills, a end am completely happy. I love her characters, I love the good-heartedness behind the worlds she creates, and I love beyond all measure the way she uses language and poetry. We share a tolerably thorough knowledge of Elizabethan Drama, and I'm constantly running across references to old friends like The Revenger's Tragedy. After many years of absence, I'm delighted to meet them again.

Which leads me to The Red Bull Theatre Company, which mounts in classical theatre, one play a season, blood, mayhem, sex, and flickering torches our specialty. Last year, it was Edward II, all black leather, brocade, and lace, with his Queen got up as Evita in the penultimate act and pretty boys all in a row. This year, it's Women Beware Women, a cynical romp through human morality by Thomas MIddleton, better known for The Changeling. It's a bleak play, often castigated as misogynistic in the extreme, although really, I don't think Middleton was as much a misogynist as a misanthropist and a cynic: a kind of equal-opportunity grouch who seems to have had as much trouble imagining a good man (or woman) as Diogenes had finding one.

Still and all, it's a very funny play, full of twists and turns and people of power and no power at all behaving badly. At the end--in this production, anyway--the only character left alive at the end is the aged father of the ingenue, who sold her into marriage with a rich simpleton at the beginning of the play, and that's just because she was too busy killing somebody else (and being killed back) to attend to him. The production was lovely--the costumes a kind of 1950's riff on 1780's splendor, with a slow slide in color from light pastels for the relative innocence of the first act to dark reds, golds, and blacks for the sordid middle and an explosion of white tulle for the wedding and deathly masque at the end.

We enjoyed it lots. I even didn't mind that someone had "adapted" Middleton's language to replace obscure usages with more familiar ones. It was done well, with no jarring anachronisms and a great sensitivity to scansion and sense. It's easier with Middleton, anyway, who likes simile better than metaphor and doesn't have Shakespeare's--or even Webster's--subtlety of grammar and rhetoric. What Middleton was good at was exposing the moral void that could turn tragedy into farce. You don't weep at the end of Women Beware Women because there's nobody to weep for. If the women are concupiscent and venal, the men are more so, as well as politically irresponsible and (in the case of the Cardinal) hypocritical. The only character I felt remotely bad for was the simpleton, who was unpleasant and sex-crazed, but at least was up front about it. I suspect I was supposed to feel bad for Bianca, maneuvered into infidelity by two powerful figures who left her no good choices. But the actress played her so smug, both in her virtue and her vice, that I was just as glad to see her go.


What Kind of a Noise Annoys an Oyster?

Yesterday, making shepherd's pie from leftover lamb roast from Dec. 25th dinner, I put on a cd of comic songs and recitations. Most of them are British (although there's Jimmy Durante singing "Inka Dinka Doo," including a note Bing Crosby gave him. . . . and boy, was he glad to get rid of it. ). There's Stanley Holloway doing "The Lion & Albert" (anybody ever hear "The Lion & Albert"?) and Noel Coward singing "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and Groucho Marx doing "Lydia the Tatooed Lady."

There's also a little number, by a gentleman called Frank Crumit called "What Kind of a Noise Annoys an Oyster," which has one of those flypaper tunes that won't go out of your head and utterly simple-minded lyrics. So, instead of Noel Coward or "Brush up Your Shakespeare," what have I got stuck in my brain?


I think I'll go put on some Flanders and Swann and get on with the tidying up. scbutler and his wife are Coming To Tea after Ellen's 1 o'clock performance.

Anybody else out there a Flanders and Swann fan?


Song of Patriotic Prejudice

It's not my favorite Flanders & Swann, but it's the only one I could find on YouTube done by, you know, Flanders & Swann. I knew Flanders had polio, but I hadn't realized how hard it was for him to breathe until I'd watched this. Still, what a voice!

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